Two Woodbridge cemeteries damaged during Hurricane Irene are being repaired through a special fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
The Workmen’s Circle and the Beth Israel cemeteries on Church Street sustained up to $15,000 worth of damage when a large tree toppled during the August storm.
“It took down a stone masonry retaining wall and a beautiful wrought-iron fence, but thank goodness no graves were damaged,” said federation controller Leslie Kornfeld.
The cemeteries, more than a century old, had been under the auspices of the former Congregation Beth Israel and Workmen’s Circle Branch 95, both in Perth Amboy.
In 1994, the federation established the Greater Middlesex Jewish Cemetery Management Corp. to ensure the upkeep of such cemeteries that are without functioning care associations.
Kornfeld said “a substantial” bequest had been left to the synagogue by a woman named Rose Spitzer, which was then turned over to the corporation in 1995 to maintain its cemetery. The corporation shortly afterward took over management of the Workmen’s Circle cemetery.
“Both cemeteries are active,” said corporation president Alan Kane of North Brunswick, “We see family members coming on the holidays to place flags and leave stones.”
Kane, also a federation board member, said there are graves in the two cemeteries from the early 1900s through the 1980s.
The cemeteries were “in very poor shape when we took them over,” he said. “Each year we have been managing them we have sought to make certain improvements so we can bring them up to a level of which we can be proud.”
A landscaper is employed to mow the grass and maintain the grounds.
The fallen tree has been cut up by the township and arrangements are being made to take the pieces away. Kane said he and Kornfeld met with the contractor at the cemeteries, who pointed out several other trees in danger of toppling.
“I don’t think there’s any greater mitzva than taking care of those who no longer have any family to take care of them,” said federation executive director Gerrie Bamira.
Kornfeld said corporation guidelines would allow it to oversee the care of any abandoned Jewish cemetery in New Jersey. “We want relatives who come to pay their respects to see a well-kept cemetery,” she said.
In 2009, care of the Congregation Beth Israel section at the Beth Israel Cemetery on Route 1 in Woodbridge, was also turned over to the corporation. The two Beth Israel cemeteries are not related.